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Superintelligence Review: McCarthy Deserves Better

Superintelligence marks another disappointing comedic misfire from the husband and wife duo of Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy.

Superintelligence makes for the fourth film made by the husband and wife tandem of director Ben Falcone and star Melissa McCarthy. One might think that a married couple making films together might bring out the best in one another, but for this pair that is sadly not the case. The first three – Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party – run the gamut from breathtakingly awful to crushing mediocrity. Unfortunately, Superintelligence does nothing to change the narrative on the tandem. It marks my favorite of their collaborations, but that’s damning with faint praise. The story here sees an artificial intelligence, a, ahem, superintelligence, gain sentience and decide to get to know the most average person it can find in order to decide if humanity should be saved, enslaved, or destroyed. It is potentially a great concept, but here it is mostly frittered away. To be fair, there are a few funny bits here, but the mixture of sentimentalism and broad comedy never coalesces into a compelling package.

I feel for Melissa McCarthy in this movie. Tasked with playing the world’s most average woman, McCarthy just does not make much sense in the role. Here, her character is contemplative and decent. She has a philanthropic career (and a resume that includes a stint at Yahoo!) and a killer apartment where even the rice cooker is some sort of digitally connected gadget. In a year where the “average American” has been so thoroughly laid bare, it simply is not possible to think of this character as “average.” I think the reality blessedly left unsaid here is that McCarthy’s weight is the genesis of her “average American” nature in the film’s world and that’s just such a lazy, retrograde use of a performer of her talents.

When she’s on, Melissa McCarthy is a superb actress. Her work in Can You Ever Forgive Me? made for one of the most compelling and stark portraits of loneliness in modern film. Her broad comedic talents have been put on grand display by Paul Feig in Spy and Bridesmaids. She brought a deft, soulful maternal touch to the pleasant schmaltz of St. Vincent. This is a woman with an enormous acting tool chest, and I hate seeing her skills wasted on comedies this lazy. Little here seems to use her comedic or dramatic skills well. One comedic bit sees McCarthy forced to awkwardly sit in a beanbag chair during a job interview. Falcone stages it like a CBS sitcom and the entire sequence comes off forced and awkward. A better director, more willing to engage in character perspective through his camera, might have made a funny bit about McCarthy’s existential terror over sitting in the chair, or one about her interviewers’ disdain at her physical pratfalls. Not so with Falcone, who is apparently amused enough by his wife’s slapstick in person that he forgets to visually engage the viewer with the bit.

loud and clear reviews superintelligence
Melissa McCarthy in Superintelligence (Hopper Stone/HBO Max)

On the other hand, rather than appearing conscripted by the expectation of a paycheck clearing in each of their accounts, the supporting players all seem well engaged with the material. Bobby Cannevale (Boardwalk Empire) – playing something far closer to the average American than McCarthy – is charming and funny. His gleeful reaction to one baseball related gag is one of the dopiest and most amusing “fanboy” moments I can recall in a film.  James Corden (Cats) happily pokes fun at himself as the voice of the titular Superintelligence. The film’s MVP is Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), playing McCarthy’s best friend, a programmer tasked with investigating the AI.  He tears into his scenes with a real sense of joy and his flirtations with sitting American president, played by Jean Smart (FX’s Fargo), make for some of the film’s most well-earned laughs.

I think the simple reality is that, much like Adam Sandler’s Netflix house player position, McCarthy has found a comfortable lane making films with her husband. Neither aspires for greatness in this work, rather they’ve found a way to pay the bills while making films that are reasonably successful financially. It’s not at all different than Sandler hanging out with his buddies in The Ridiculous Six. Hell, I suspect Time Warner has realized exactly this reality by delaying this film from a release in theaters last Christmas to HBO Max’s first holiday season this year. It’s the rare theatrical release moved to streaming before COVID. So, good for McCarthy and Falcone getting paid. They have another collaboration, Thunder Force, due next year, which I assume will be in the same vein as their prior works. It’s too bad though – McCarthy is better than this.

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